CLEVELAND—Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle, who’s hitless in his last 14 at-bats with nine strikeouts and is hitting just .172 with four home runs and 19 RBIs in the second half of the season, will bat seventh in Tuesday night’s game against the Cleveland Guardians.
It’s the first time in 2022 that Mountcastle has hit that low in the order.
“I’m just trying to take some pressure off him,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He’s scuffling lately, overswinging, trying to do too much. I’m trying to give him a little bit of a breather.”
Hyde pointed out that Cedric Mullins, Adley Rutschman and Anthony Santander were on base often during the Houston series, and Mountcastle rarely put the ball in play.
“He’s a young guy trying to drive in runs instead of letting the game come to him,” Hyde said. ‘Hopefully, this can give him a little bit of a spark, take a little bit of pressure off him.
“Ryan wants to produce. He had a great June. I was looking at his numbers month-by-month. It’s incredible what he did in June. That shows you what kind of hitter he can be. He knows that. He’s had a rough patch lately by expanding the strike zone.
“He wants to contribute to winning, too. He hasn’t done what he wants to do offensively, but he is doing it defensively. He’s playing great defensively. That’s been huge to see.”
The Orioles scored just six runs in their series win over the Houston Astros this past weekend and went just 3-for-22 with runners in scoring position. Starters Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer and Austin Voth were exceptional against the Astros, but the Orioles’ offense provided little support. They’ll need to hit better as they begin a key series against the Guardians sitting two games out of the third and final wild-card spot.
Tampa Bay (70-57), Seattle (70-58) and Toronto (69-58) are the top three among American League wild-card teams. The Orioles (67-60) are a game ahead of Minnesota (66-61). The Twins trail the Guardian by 1 ½ games in the American League Central.
If the Orioles secure the third-wild card spot, they’d likely play the winner of the Central. The division winners with the best two records get a bye, and Cleveland is 11 ½ games behind the New York Yankees, who lead the American League East. Houston has the best record in the American League and leads the West.
“We’ve handled it extremely well,” Hyde said about staying in the playoff hunt. “Playing so many close games against so many really good teams the last few years, early on this year. We’re used to it now at this point.”
The Orioles lost two of three to Cleveland in Baltimore on June 3rd-5th.
“This is a really, really good club, a great pitching staff,” Hyde said. “They don’t strike out. They play great defense, so they present a lot of problems.”
With 35 games to play, the Orioles would need to go 23-12 to win 90 games. In 2021, the Blue Jays (91-71) and Seattle (90-72) both missed out on the playoffs.
“I haven’t put a number on it,” Hyde said. “I don’t think anybody can forecast it at this point. Just trying to win series, honestly. If we do that, the numbers will be there at the end, and we’ll give ourselves a chance. With three wild-card teams, it’s a little bit different on wins. Right now, there are four American League East teams. Boston could make a run, also, so who knows what’s going to happen.”
Wells throws at Aberdeen: Tyler Wells, who threw a simulated game at High-A Aberdeen over the weekend, threw 30 pitches in a bullpen session on Tuesday there.
“We’re taking it day-by-day with him,” Hyde said. “As of right now, it went well, and we’re going to continue to progress him.”
It seems likely the Orioles would use Wells as a reliever in the final weeks because it would take longer for him to build up innings as a starter. They could also add DL Hall on Thursday when the rosters expand to 28.
While the Orioles’ bullpen has thrown 496 innings, the fifth most in the American League and the eighth most in baseball, they were needed for just 4 1/3 over the weekend in Houston when Bradish, Kremer and Voth were dominant.
“I feel like our bullpen is as rested as it’s been all year,” Hyde said. “We’ve done a good job out of the ‘pen all year. Being able to add somebody in September is going to be a huge deal because we’re going to be playing in tough games.”